The Benefits of Gardening in Containers
By Erin Robbins
Gardening certainly seemed much simpler when we were young. You could walk down any neighbourhood street and expect to see all the same geraniums, marigolds, and lobelia in tidy beds on front lawns. In the past, containers have been reserved for herbs and perhaps the odd tomato. These days, containers have taken a leading role in our gardening. With the majority of new annuals, not to mention an increasing range of vegetables, containers is the name of the game. With such a popular change in gardening, it’s time to break down what containers have to offer:
Functionality: Saving Space
Container gardening is a clear winner for a new type of gardener in urban centers. People are able to grow some of their own food or add a lush and colourful container at home, even if all they have is a small apartment balcony. There are a lot of innovative gardening tricks that we can learn from some creative people who are ready to get the most from a few rays of sunshine. Even in your own home, the economy of space can’t be ignored. Containers are a condensed and lush expression of colour, style, and function. Instead of working to maintain large displays of flowers, we now have the option to direct our efforts at a few smaller focal points. Combine this with the convenience of portability and flexibility that comes with containers, and it’s easy to see why they have become so popular.
Creativity and Design
The flexibility of container gardening isn’t just about convenience, it also opens up new avenues for creativity. You can be so much more inventive with containers, where every aspect of the design is in your control. When it comes to arranging a group of containers, the sky’s the limit! Have fun with everything from size, shape, texture and colour to make something that inspires joy in your own backyard. If you’re new to designing your own containers, or if you usually buy them pre-made, this freedom of choice and design can seem a little bit intimidating. We encourage you to give it a try – even just one container this summer! It’s incredibly fun to put together a container full of whatever you set your heart on at the Garden Centre. And besides, you only have to commit to your design for one summer. Containers offer choice and creativity, but their temporary nature also relieves a lot of the pressure when you’re trying to design a look for the season.
Many of the annuals that we enjoy (including many of the vegetables) are originally from warm tropical climates. We adore them for their exotic appeal and their ability to turn your patio into a lush jungle oasis. Rich textures, heavy blossoms, and a hundred shades of green are part of the appeal that makes them so popular. But most of these exotic plants have never seen weather remotely like our Canadian snow and frost. Their roots are used to consistently warm temperatures. Planting these tropical plants in our cold May soil will give them quite the shock. It could stunt their growth or even kill them. In a container, though, it’s always warm. Exposed on all sides and above ground, the soil is kept warm as long as the temperatures stay above freezing. You can transplant your tropical plants into a container once the weather warms and they’ll feel right at home. On the other hand, a few of our favourites are cold-weather natives. These plants might not appreciate the extra warmth served up by a container. If you’re looking to plant cool-weather plants like pansies or lettuce, they might prefer being in the ground. If you don’t have the option of a traditional garden, make sure you water these containers to keep them as cool as possible.
Maintenance: Watering and Weeds
The drawback of the extra exposure and warming in containers is that they need to be watered much more often. They simply don’t have the space for abundant reserves of water. And while their improved drainage helps your plants to grow healthy root systems, the extra watering can be a chore – especially during summer heat waves. There are a couple tips and cheats to get around this. Self-watering containers have a reservoir of water to give the roots an extra boost. You can purchase them ready-to-plant, or even make them yourself at home! Your container plants will also benefit from a layer of mulch on their surface. Not only does mulch clean up the aesthetic of your container, but it will prevent water from evaporating and stunt the growth of weeds! You’ll have a chic container that requires less regular watering and weeding maintenance. Adding 2-3 inches of organic mulch like cedar or pine is best. Avoid using rock mulch, as it will actually make your container dry out faster, and choose something natural and chemical-free if you’ve planted edibles. Like any gardening trend, deciding whether or not containers are the perfect fit for your home is entirely up to you. We appreciate them for making garden vegetables accessible for anyone, and for the great combination of functionality and aesthetic appeal that they offer. Gardening with annuals is a fun chance to get creative and experiment with whatever plants catch your eye – and containers are always a good way to showcase your favourites.